The Palestinian Malignancy

The always sensible Fouad Ajami tells the sad story of the Palestinian fantasy world.

An excerpt from an article in today’s New York Times:

The Palestinian ruin was a long time in coming. No other national movement has had the indulgence granted the Palestinians over the last half-century, and the results can be seen in the bravado and the senseless violence, in the inability of a people to come to terms with their condition and their needs.

The life of a Palestinian is one of squalor and misery, yet his leaders play the international game as though they were powers. An accommodation with Israel is imperative — if only out of economic self-interest and political necessity — but the Palestinians, in a democratic experiment some 18 months ago, tipped power to a Hamas movement whose very charter is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state and the imposition of Islamist rule.

The political maxim that people get the leaders they deserve must be reckoned too cruel to apply to the Palestinians. Before Hamas, for four decades, the vainglorious Yasir Arafat refused to tell his people the basic truths of their political life. Amid the debacles, he remained eerily joyous; he circled the globe, offering his people the false sense that they could be spared the consequences of terrible decisions.

In a rare alignment of the universe, there came Mr. Arafat’s way in the late 1990s an American president, Bill Clinton, eager to redeem Palestinian claims and an Israeli soldier-statesman, Ehud Barak, who would offer the Palestinians all that Israeli political traffic could bear and then some.

But it was too much to ask of Mr. Arafat to return to his people with a decent and generous compromise, to bid farewell to the legend that the Palestinians could have it all “from the river to the sea.” It was safer for him to stay with the political myths of his people than to settle down for the more difficult work of statehood and political rescue.

For their part, the Arab states have only compounded the Palestinian misery. The Arab cavalry was always on the way, the Arab treasure was always a day away, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to pay tribute to necessity. In recent years, the choice was starkly posed: it was either statehood or a starring role on Al Jazeera, and the young “boys of the stones” and their leaders opted for the latter.

…It isn’t a pretty choice, that between Hamas and Fatah. Indeed, it was the reign of plunder and arrogance that Fatah imposed during its years of primacy that gave Hamas its power and room for maneuver. We must not overdo the distinction between the “secularism” of Fatah and the Islamism of Hamas. In the cruel streets and refugee camps of the Palestinians, this is really a distinction without a difference.

It is idle to think that Gaza could be written off as a Hamas dominion while Fatah held its own in the towns of the West Bank. The abdication and the anarchy have damaged both Palestinian realms. Nablus in the West Bank is no more amenable to reason than is Gaza; the writ of the pitiless preachers and gunmen is the norm in both places.

… For decades, Arab society granted the Palestinians everything and nothing at the same time. The Arab states built worlds of their own, had their own priorities, dreaded and loathed the Palestinians as outsiders and agitators, but left them to the illusion that Palestine was an all-consuming Arab concern.

Now the Palestinians should know better. The center of Arab politics has shifted from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, a great political windfall has come to the lands of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, vast new wealth due to the recent rises in oil prices, while misery overwhelms the Palestinians. No Arabs wait for Palestine anymore; they have left the Palestinians to the ruin of their own history.

The rise of Hamas in Gaza should concentrate the minds of the custodians of power in the Arab world. Palestine, their old alibi, the cause with which they diverted the attention of their populations from troubles at home, has become a nightmare in its own right. An Arab debt is owed the Palestinians — the gift of truth and candor as well as material help.

Arab poets used to write reverential verse in praise of the boys of the stones and the suicide bombers. Now the poetry has subsided, replaced by a silent recognition of the malady that afflicts the Palestinians. Except among the most bigoted and willful of Arabs, there is growing acknowledgment of the depth of the Palestinian crisis. And aside from a handful of the most romantic of Israelis, there is a recognition in that society, as well, of the malignancy of the national movement a stone’s throw away.

Caroline Glick has more on fantasy and the Palestinians.

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